A few minutes after nine o'clock on the morning of 22 May, the first fighter aircraft took off from Lulea Kallax airport to start the first flight mission of the exercise.
"Many people have been working on the exercise for a long time now and we are underway at last, it feels very good. Now we are hoping for a good exercise with qualified elements that strengthen the operational capability and build security together with other nations", says exercise leader, Colonel Claes lsoz.
The multinational air training exercise, Arctic Challenge Exercise 2019, ACE 19, is being conducted in northern Sweden, Norway and Finland from 22 May to 4 June. This year, Sweden is exercise leader with the responsibility for the exercise, which is being conducted for the fourth time within the framework of the Nordic cooperation and the Cross Border agreement between the countries. The exercise is a further development of air training exercises conducted in previous years, and is planned to take place every other year. This year, more than 140 aircraft are taking part, including tanker aircraft and air command aircraft from nine different countries.
Two missions four days a week, from four bases in three countries. For two weeks.
During the exercise, the flights take off from four bases, Lulea Kallax in Sweden, Bodo and Orland in Norway and Rovaniemi in Finland. Two flight missions are conducted each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning mission is flown within the borders of each host country. During the afternoon mission, the air forces in Norway and Finland cross their borders and enter the unique training area for ACE 19 - an area stretching from Vasterbotten in the south to a good few miles north of Treriksroset.
"The training area is as vast as it is unique, with proximity between the three main bases, and it gives us the opportunity to train together in an advanced and very cost-effective way", says exercise leader Claes lsoz.
ACE is invaluable
Parts of the US and British units have had advance forces at Lulea Kallax airport for just over a week now to set everything up before the fighter aircraft and other personnel were in place. The US F-16 planes from the South Carolina National Guard landed on 16 May, and the British Typhoon planes from Royal Air Force Lossiemouth, Scotland, landed on 20 May.
"We are really looking forward to the opportunity to train together with several of our allies in Europe. Partly to sharpen ourselves up, but also to develop the collaboration with other participating nations. During this type of exercise, we have the opportunity to share important experience as well as tactics and ideas which ultimately deal with our common security", says commanding officer No. 6 Squadron from Lossiemouth, Matthew D'Aubyn, and he continues:
"We think we are very far north when we are in northern Scotland. Now we have flown another two and a half hours northwards and all of a sudden we are almost the southernmost European participants."
"Up here in the north, you have a fantastic open air space with the opportunity to train over very large areas and it is something the entire squadron is looking forward to during ACE. And the fact that we are in place with Typhoons, despite being very busy on many different fronts, shows how highly we value this type of air training exercise with highly qualified opponents", says Matthew D'Aubyn.
Qualified opponents, both in the air and on the ground
During a single mission in ACE, the combat pilots coordinate their flight operations with more than 50 other planes from eight countries, while facing opponents with 30-40 aircraft in the air, and with about ten different types of aircraft. And after each flight mission, there is a thorough evaluation of each pilot's performance and actions. In addition to this, the pilots train with aerial refuelling, and are exposed to "disrupted" radar and radio environments, while at the same time they have to combat ground and sea targets.
In addition to the threat from the airborne opponents, there are also advanced threats on the ground in the form of Norwegian, German and US air defence units grouped around northern Sweden. A Dutch unit is stationed at Lulea Kallax airport with Link 16 - a tactical data link that makes it possible to communicate encrypted information in real time in the form of images, voice communication, navigation data and more between different combat forces.
ACE 19 is underway. Two weeks of intensive and evolving training now lie ahead, both in the air and on the ground.